In 2017, tourism GDP accounted for 2.0% of total GDP and 9.6% of total employment, or 6.5 million employees. Recent growth in tourism to Japan has been very significant with international arrivals rising from 28.7 million in 2017 to 31.2 million in 2018, up 8.7%, and another record high for the sixth consecutive year. Revenues from international tourists rose 18% from JPY 3.8 trillion to JPY 4.5 trillion between 2016 and 2018. Travel exports accounted for 21.8% of total service exports in 2018.

To put this growth into perspective, there were 6.2 million international arrivals in 2011 and this five-fold increase in visitor numbers makes Japan one of the fastest growing inbound tourism economies in the OECD. This performance also extends to individual markets where highs were also recorded in 19 of the 20 principal inbound markets, the only exception being visits from Hong Kong.

Domestic tourism by Japanese citizens is also of major economic importance with residents taking 561.8 million trips, down 13.2% over 2017, spending JPY 20.5 trillion in 2018 – representing some 80% of total revenues from tourism. This was a decrease of 3.0% compared with the previous year due to the incidence of typhoons and other natural disasters.

Established in 2008 as an external body of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the Japan Tourism Agency takes a leading role in tourism policy and its coordination, representing the Government on issues relating to tourism and the promotion of Japan as a tourist destination. The Agency is in charge of executing the Visit Japan campaign and other marketing activities.

A Ministerial Council for the Promotion of Japan as a Tourism-Oriented Country attended by all ministers was established in 2013 to unify government efforts on tourism. A cross-ministerial budget has enabled numerous projects to be delivered and this budget has been maintained, and now includes a subsidy to support historic landscapes. The private sector is invited to regular “Tourism Strategy Promotion Council” meetings (with Cabinet Ministers in attendance) as experts in the field to give their opinion on relevant topics.

Local government’s role is to improve the attractiveness of local destinations. The national government offers support to boost regional initiatives by providing statistical data, initiating area-wide co-operation and supporting regional development.

The Japan Tourism Agency’s budget for 2019 is JPY 71.1 billion. The budget is 2.8 times more than the 2017 budget of JPY 25.6 billion, due to the inclusion of a contribution of JPY 48.5 billion as a result of a new international tourist tax established in January 2019 after a planning and consultation period of 18 months.

The budget is broken down as follows:

  • JPY 27.9 billion allocated to creating an environment that is stress-free and suitable for travellers including improved border procedures and higher quality public transport.

  • JPY 14.9 billion towards easier access to information emphasising the appeal of travelling in Japan and strengthening tourism and other related industries.

  • JPY 22.4 billion towards improving quality of visitor experience and welcome in regional areas by maintaining local cultural and natural tourism resources.

  • JPY 4.5 billion to help revitalise the Tohoku region.

While Japan’s proximity to Asian tourism markets is undoubtedly a factor in its recent growth, the Government has also been instrumental in supporting the sector. Proactive policy measures have included easing visa requirements, enabling tax free shopping, enhancing infrastructure and improving visitor services. Japan also introduced the Private Lodging Business Act in 2018, requiring anyone operating a peer-to-peer accommodation rental business must notify the prefectural governor and register their interest (Box 1.17). Tourism contributes to the country’s economic and structural challenges, aids the regeneration of local areas and is an important means to revitalise areas struck by natural disasters. Some of the current challenges faced by Japan include the development of internationally competitive destinations which have a critical mass of quality visitor attractions; putting in place training and skills frameworks to enable more appropriately qualified staff to sustain a high quality industry; and strengthening marketing and promotional mechanisms for greater effectiveness. The 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo present a further opportunity for international profiling. A further structural challenge is Japan’s declining and ageing population.

Another principal concern is encouraging tourism development that is both inclusive and sustainable given recent growth trends. While Japan has not yet experienced the ‘problems of success’ that have affected other high profile global destinations, it has nevertheless recognised the need for focussed and sustainable policies and related measures to effectively develop and manage a dynamic sector.

All regional and local governments have recognised these issues alongside the Government which in 2016 developed a long term strategy to 2030. The New Tourism Strategy to Invigorate the Japanese Economy is complemented by a medium term plan entitled the Tourism Nation Promotion Basic Plan which sets out a comprehensive and agreed set of measures to be taken by ministries across government from 2017. Collectively these documents represent the agreed tourism policies and measures to be delivered by the Government and its agencies. The Government reviews all regulations for their impact on tourism and accommodates any changes as necessary, setting and adapting goals with reference to UNWTO forecasts and other experts to shape and modify the plans as necessary.

Partnership with the private sector is considered vital with regular dialogue with business groups such as the Japan Travel and Tourism Association. The Government is promoting the establishment and development of these private sector-led DMOs (including with subsidies for staff costs, training) in order to develop local tourism policies, after the establishment of the Japanese version of DMO registration system in 2015. DMOs play an increasingly central role in tourism related regional development in collaboration with local government.

In October 2019, reflecting the importance of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the JTA hosted the G20 Tourism Ministers’ Meeting in Hokkaido, with the theme of maximising tourism’s contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The Government of Japan has established the Sustainable Tourism Promotion Headquarters that deals with the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. In 2019, Towards the Advancement of Sustainable Tourism was published; this comprehensive approach to the development of the sector also defines the nature and scope of future initiatives. These include co-operation between local governments and the Japan Tourism Agency at major tourist destinations, such as Kyoto, to develop measures to control overcrowding and related social impacts. The Agency will promote sustainable tourism by developing a more widespread use of its Sustainable Tourism Index based on international standards and encouraging local government and DMOs to manage destinations using the Index to gain a fuller understanding of what is a complex and dynamic sector.

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